By: ROBIN DUPRE, Digital Editor, BIC Magazine

In a business-conscious environment with safety being paramount, it is essential for managers to translate strategy into action. How one facilitates the development of strategy requires refined thinking and planning; however, most senior leaders know developing strategy is only the start of the process. Transformation doesn’t come easily for most, so one must shift from passenger to driver during the process.

“Assess the organization and then quickly determine what it can sustain,” remarked Anchal Liddar, director of operational excellence, American Petroleum Institute (API). “You have to begin by discussing the pain points and then creating common goals; it makes the implementation easier throughout the organization.”

Statistics prove around 80 percent of strategic plans are poorly executed, which proves the complexity of operational transformation.

Growing people and changing behaviors is all about engagement, noted Nev Lockwood, global operational excellence director, Albemarle. “You have to lead with alignment, not execution. Alignment allows for different parts of the organization to develop business plans that support strategic priorities and which are coordinated with other parts of the business.”

A panel consisting of refinery operators and API discussed the topic of how to translate business strategy into action when driving operational transformation to the frontline at the Operational Excellence in Refining & Petrochemicals Summit held recently in Houston. The panelists noted creating integration for a business formation is not easy and forces all involved to have the same vision.

Where the problems lie in implementing change is a lack of trust and reliability among different parts of the business. Most managers feel they can’t rely on colleagues to deliver on commitments if they are not in the trenches of their day-to-day routines.

“Frontline engagement is paramount — boots on the ground asking questions and stating ‘help me help you,'” explained Bryan Canfield, general manager, Port Arthur Refinery, Total Petrochemicals and Refining. “It is important to have horizontal strategic leadership to ensure that different parts of the business support each other in the delivery of strategy and that your colleagues — the ones that are carrying the heavy load — feel the vision, too.”

It’s hard to get staff to be your champions if they are ambivalent or disengaged. With every goal, communication is an essential component of strategy. If it is not understood, then strategic objectives are poorly understood and often seem unrelated to each other and disconnected. Furthermore, while senior leaders may have accountability to develop and guide the strategy, it’s middle managers and team leaders who translate strategy into action.

“Focus on the outcome when communicating the strategy,” said Hugo Ashkar, global risk manager, BP. “Then repeat this mantra with the frontline staff. A big strategic plan in terms of words and pages is cluttered thinking. Boil your strategy down to one memorable phrase.”

And along the way, ask staff to provide input and advice on the practicalities of implementing the strategy. Don’t always stick to the plan; be flexible and adapt to changing operating conditions because the benefits support the goals.

“This will allow for continuous improvement of the strategy,” stated Lockwood.

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